Far in the future, mankind endures the relentless onslaught of alien oppressors, an ancient battle whose tide has begun to turn through the efforts of the Cerberus rebels. This remarkable band of warriors fights an elusive enemy, traveling through dangerous portals of time and space, where reality and un-reality collide in stunning, deadly purpose
LIGHT OF THE DAMNED
The diamond mines of the Congo are ground zero for a calculated new power grab by an ancient Mesopotamian god. Darkened and depraved, Nergal intends to harness the power of light to lock humanity in the blackness of eternal damnation. But Nergal's ability to blind his opponents is only the beginning. The Cerberus rebels will have to find the human who's pulling Nergal's strings which means venturing into the gaping mouth of hell itself.
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Monsters waited beyond the shadows, monsters of another age.
Located in an underground bunker, the room had no windows and no illumination other than a single flashlight that wove through the darkness in the hands of its lone living occupant. The room was as wide as a football field, and its floor was masked by a deepening pool of stagnant water, the ripples flickering in half-seen crescents as the beam of the flashlight played across them.
Several vehicles protruded from the water like standing stonesa broken-down flatbed truck, a smaller van with its hood open, three jeeps, each in a state of disrepair. And there were other thingscrates and boxes stained with mold, human bones that floated in the darkened water, bobbing horrifically into view before sinking down again to be lost in the cloudy swirl. It smelled, too, of damp and rot. It was a place where the things that reach beyond death flourish.
The woman with the flashlight stalked along the edge of the waterlogged room like a jungle cat stalking its prey, one long leg crossing the other as she moved, feet tramping in the shallowest depths of the artificial lake. Each step was accompanied by the splash of water, dark and foul smelling, and each time her black-booted foot touched the floor, the water would swirl over it until it covered her ankles, threatening to rise higher as she hurried on. Moss and pondweed floated across the surface of the water, twirling on the rippling currents caused by each step the woman took.
The woman was called Nathalie. She was in her twenties, six feet tall, slim and dark skinned with dyed feathers hanging from her ears, brushing against the tops of her shoulders. She wore leopard-print shorts and tall black boots that laced corset-like up the back of her calves. She wore a calfskin jacket that wrapped snug-gly across her breasts, and there was a knife sheathed at her hip, its blade glinting in the water's reflection of the flashlight she carried to light her way. The knife was as long as a man's forearm, broadening along its length to a wide tip. Her hair was a shadowy halo of tight black ringlets that encircled her head.
She passed a femur washed up on the strange shores of the underground garage, stepped over it with only a moment's pause as she headed for a doorway and into the waiting elevator that was located in the corridor beyond.
Nathalie punched the button for a lower floor and waited as the elevator shuddered and dropped, its lights flickering and dimming as it sucked power from the redoubt's ancient generator. The elevator worked when little else did, a necessity for the redoubt's other occupant, who had lost both legs two years before.
A few seconds later the elevator came to a halt and its door drew back with a squeak on unoiled tracks.
Nathalie stepped out into a new corridor, one like any other in the redoubt, gray walled with a stripe of color to indicate level and area. Already she could hear the sounds of the generator that ran incessantly at the far end, not for lighting or heat but for that other purposeto keep the dead thing from dying.
The corridor was lit by a single candle at the far end, held in the claws of a four-foot-high holder, its silver base emerging from the half inch of water that covered the floor here, just as it did in the motor pool.
Nathalie followed the corridor to its end, and as she approached the room there, she could smell the incense on the air, masking the other scents of damp and sweat and death.
This room was much smaller, barely able to contain the towering metal-walled tank that dominated its space. The sound of the generator was louder in here, too, a great thrumming that seemed to thump through the metal plates of the floor, pounding against the soles of Nathalie's boots so that it seemed she was shaking, that her heart was racing.
The room was litalmost reverentlyby a dozen candles, each one as tall as a child's arm and propped inside mismatched containersjars and cups, here the jaws of a monkey's skull as if it was smoking a lit cigar. There was no water in this room, though its floor was stained dark where water had seeped in before. A lone figure sat in the center of the room, facing the towering structure that dominated the space. He sat not in a chair but in a wheelchair, his back to Nathalie. This was Papa Hurbon, a corpulent figure with wide shoulders and richly dark skin. His head was shaved and shaped like a bullet, a bucket-wide jaw tapering upward to a point at the top of his skull. Earrings dotted his ears, twin lines of gold studs running up their shell-like curves, tiny figures suspended from the lobes themselves.
Clutching something small and ragged like an old woman's knitting, Hurbon's eyes were wide as he looked at the vast generator that was housed in the room. The unit towered over Nathalie, its curved metal sides buckled in places where something hard had struck them, a single porthole of six-inch armaglass located in the lone door that dominated its front. This was a coldfusion generator, designed in the late twentieth century to create energy through nuclear fusion and used to power this underground redoubt when it had been in the possession of the US Army two hundred years ago. A spectral light ebbed from that single porthole, its luminescence a pale, irradiated blue.
"Nathalie," Hurbon said without turning.
Nathalie bowed her head in deference to Hurbon, even though he had not turned to see. "My beacon, my guide," she said, her voice shrill in the enclosed space.
She waited then, as Papa Hurbon, leader of the société, master of the djévo, practitioner of the dark voodun arts of the Bizango Priests, studied the ghostly miasma that swirled and flowed across the glass of the cold-fusion generator. There was a face there, the hint of an eye as hollow as the grave, a smile half formed from mist, strands of hair that swept across cheekbones that never fully formed as they were tossed by the ceaseless winds of the generator. Nathalie had never really understood what the thing in the generator was, only that Papa Hurbon regarded it with unmatched reverence.
"I have been t'inking," Hurbon began without turning his gaze from the ghost in the window, "about what it is to be immortal. Is it a gift? Or is it a curse?"
Nathalie waited as Hurbon seemed to ponder his own philosophical question. She was not given to philosophy; rather, she was young and the blood still ran hot inside her, driving her to action, not to rumination.
"And so I have thought, back and forth, on this topic,"
Hurbon continued after a long pause, "and I have concluded that the key to immortality lies here, in the conquering of death." He opened his hands, bringing forth the little figure that he clutched there. The figure was a fith-fath, what the ignorant called a voodoo doll, and its twisted rag body depicted a woman's figure with dark eyes and long, skeletal limbs. "But to conquer death, you seethat is a challenge that few can comprehend. Because to conquer it is to embrace it as my goddess, Ezili Coeur Noir, embraces it."
He was talking about the figure in the generator, Nathalie knew, a by-product of the Annunaki wombship that had somehow been granted a second life, one fractured into separate bodies, broken away from the wheel of life and death and rebirth. Nathalie did not know the full story, had only pieced together hints of it from what her priest, Hurbon, had told her. When he was a younger man, Ezili Coeur Noir had appeared on the Earth amid the debris of a spaceship that had been destroyed outside of the atmosphere. But, driven mad by the damage that the accident had inflicted upon her body, she had come to the société's temple in the Louisiana swamps and demanded blood sacrifice. That sacrifice had been wild and desperate and had involved dancing and fornication and, ultimately, the shedding of limbs in her name. Papa Hurbon had lost his legs to his goddess in those crazy days of debauchery, and in return she had brought him a brief taste of paradise as she set about eradicating all life on Earth. Her plan had failed when a group of self-designated protectors of humankind called Cerberus had intervened, petitioning Hurbon's aid before forcing the broken aspects of Ezili's body to combine in the heart of the fusion generator. Hurbon had helped, employing his arcane knowledge to draw the fractured aspects of Ezili's body to one location. And, in so doing, he had gained a hold on Ezili Coeur Noir, weaving her spirit into his fith-fath and so momentarily controlling the uncontrollable. She was unstable even now, locked inside the generator, but at least she was where Hurbon could contain her.
"Death must be bypassed," Hurbon continued, "and to do that we must first embrace it."
"Do you intend to kill yourself, Papa?" Nathalie asked, her tone wary.
Hurbon turned to her at last, a golden canine tooth in his top jaw glinting in the flickering candlelight, dark gaps in his lower jaw where other teeth were missing entirely. "That would be foolish, Nathalie child," he said with that easy smile of indulgence. "Even if I gained immortality, using the dragon's teeth, what would that be worth if I lost myself in the process? No, we have tested the teeth in Spain, in Italy, in the Congo"
Nathalie inclined her head, stopping Hurbon in mid-speech. "I am still awaiting the results of the Congo test," she said.
"Where the locals see Heaven's Light," Hurbon muttered to himself, shaking his head sorrowfully. Then he looked up at Nathalie once more, piercing her with his dark-eyed stare. "To keep oneself well, there are risks, as we have seen. Ereshkigal failed, the body never fully holding. Charun and Vanth failed, their portal collapsing."
"And them with it," Nathalie interjected.
"The risks of using the dragon's teeth have been made clear," Hurbon said, "and can be bypassed with a little patience. There is just one risk left. And to counter that I shall need someone from the société, someone loyal."
"I know just the person," Nathalie assured him, thinking of a desperate member of his parish whose loyalty was beyond question.
"Bring them," Hurbon instructed, "and together we shall spring the trap that brings Cerberus down forever and grants us immortality and eternal reign over this beautiful mud ball we call Earth."
Brigid Baptiste awoke with a start.
The sounds of the Cerberus redoubt filtered through the walls and door of her private apartment, faint but offering a reassuring background, reminding her that life goes on. The apartment was located on one of the upper levels, away from the operations rooms, testing labs and other facilities housed within the redoubt, an old military complex that dated back to before the nukecaust and had been retrofitted to accommodate the Cerberus operation.
It was usually quiet here, whatever the time was. The staff at Cerberus worked in shifts, and people respected that someone was always sleeping no matter what hour of the day it was. But the sounds of talking, of laughter, seemed to echo through her door today.
Brigid shifted, turning onto her side and reaching for the lamp. She squinted her eyes as she brushed the lamp's side, switching it on with her touch. Beside the lamp, the notebook she kept at her bedside had been moved. Brigid had an eidetic memory, one that was photographic, and it remembered details like that. The book had been rotated twenty degrees from where she had left it. Her incredible memory could make her a little precise sometimes in the things she did.
She was a beautiful woman in her late twenties with an athletic body and long locks of red hair that curled past her shoulders to a point midway down her spine. Her eyes were emerald green, bright with a fire of curiosity. Her assessing gaze suggested a voracious intellect, while her full lips promised passion; Brigid was indeed intelligent and passionate and much more besides. An ex-archivist from Cobaltville, she had been expelled from the ville when she had helped uncover a millennia-long conspiracy designed to subjugate humankind. The conspiracy dated all the way back to the presence on Earth of the alien race called the Annunaki, who had posed as gods from the heavens and been worshipped and adored by primitive humans. Their intrigues had become legend, their infighting the basis of many of humanity's mythsbut the Annunaki were all too real. Brigid could assure you of that fact because she had been there when they had returned to the Earth in the care of their dragon-like wombship, Tiamat, and been reborn to subjugate humankind once more. They had failed, not in the least due to the concerted efforts of Brigid and her companions in the Cerberus organization, a military-style group dedicated to the protection of humanity and its freedoms.
Brigid had joined Cerberus after her expulsion from Cobaltville along with two disgraced Magistrates called Kane and Grant, and a feral child called Domi who had been living as a sex slave for a beast called Guana Teague. Their lives had moved on an awfully long way from that early meeting.
Brigid reached for the notepad, saw in that instant that there were words written upon it. She turned the pad slowly, looking at the words. There were two words"emit part"written in her hand, albeit shakily. The words were written not on a line but in a circle, like so:
e t m r i a t p
Automatic writing, Brigid realized as she looked at the strange words, presumably written without conscious thought while she was asleep. Well, that was new.
But what did it mean? Obviously, something had disturbed her in the night; something had caused her to write those words on her notebook, an item that often seemed a redundant indulgence when her memory was such a keen tool and yet could sometimes elicit the answer to a nagging problem from the day before. After all, what would a woman with a photographic memory ever need to write down?
She lay in bed, the covers pulled up high to stay warm, holding the pad and gazing at the topmost sheet.
It meant nothing to her. What was the part? What did it emit? It was dream writing, the kind that adheres to the logic of the subconscious, whose meaning is lost when the waking mind takes over.
Brigid held the pad before her, stared at the letters until her eyes lost focus and stared beyond it into the whiteness of the page, turning the letters into a blur. From outside her suite, Brigid heard familiar voices raised in a friendly discussion peppered with joyful laughter, but the sound barely registered on her consciousness.
Eventually, she set down the pad, pushed back the covers and got out of the bed. The new day awaited, whatever it might bring.